Thursday, March 10, 2016

Fresh Palette, Old Paper

Ahhh. . . a fresh and clean paint box!
This rain is not letting up – for the next five days, the forecast is 90 to 100 percent chance of it each day – and we’ve also been having high winds since last night. It’s a good day for spring cleaning, which, in my case, was all about finally doing something about my truly gross watercolor box!

You would not believe how many layers of gooey, gunky paint coated all sides of each half pan, dripping down into the Trader Joe’s mint tin and all around the sides. Yuck. I was going to clean out the tin, too (the one I’d been using for more than three years), but I’ve got plenty more, so I tossed it out and replaced it. Now my hands are nearly as stained as the tin was from scrubbing all the half pans, but at least my paint box is cleaner than it has been in years.

While I was at it, I changed some of the colors, too. A couple of years ago I worked hard to wean myself of greens and put together a primary triad palette that I’ve been using ever since:

Alizarin Crimson (WN)
Quinacridone Sienna (DS)
French Ultramarine (WN)
Cobalt Blue (WN)
Indigo (WN)
Nickel Azo Yellow (WN)
Quinacridone Gold (DS)
Lemon (WN)

This palette usually served me well, but I finally decided I didn’t need three yellows (although it was nice to keep Lemon clean while I used the other two for mixing). Indigo was my designated “dark,” but it was too dark, so I hardly used it, and it wasn’t earning its keep (my tin holds only eight half pans, so every color needs to work hard).

During today’s cleanup, I took out Indigo, Nickel Azo Yellow and Quinacridone Gold. In their place, I put in:

Sap Green (Da Vinci)
Sepia (WN)
Cobalt Violet (WN)

Although I liked the simplicity of an all-primary palette, I also spent a lot of time trying to mix a green I liked and was never completely happy. I’m going back to convenient Sap Green, which works well in most sketches I do. Sepia is now my “dark” of choice; we’ll see if I use it more than Indigo.

And what’s up with Cobalt Violet? For a while I had the bad habit of collecting paint colors whenever I saw them on the palette of an artist I admired, or if the colors appeared on a supply list for a class I was taking. After reading many books and taking several workshops, I’ve long since figured out that the “ideal” watercolor palette is as idiosyncratic as the painter holding it, so using someone else’s list isn’t meaningful; I have to figure out a palette that works for me. I can’t remember whose list of “recommended” or “favorite” colors Cobalt Violet appeared on, but there it was in my paint collection. I wanted one more secondary color to be the eighth in my tin, so Cobalt Violet it is. (We’ll see how long it lasts.)

For the record, this eight-color palette is the one I use only when I’m in the field. When I’m sketching at my desk (like yesterday’s kabocha), I have a much wider choice of colors, and therefore I’m less judicious about what I stick my brush into.

My dirty old palette -- ick.
In other news, you’ll recall that for the past couple months I’ve been using Canson XL 98-pound Mix Media in my everyday sketchbook (you can read all about my reasoning behind the change). I had stitched up six signatures with it, and I diligently filled the last one while I was in Portland last week. To last me through Cannon Beach, I had brought along a couple of signatures of my old favorite, 140-pound cold-press Canson XL watercolor paper, as well as a mixed signature made from loose sheets of Stillman & Birn Beta and Zeta papers.

I'm back to my tried-and-true 140 lb. Canson XL
cold-press watercolor paper.
Ahhh – it felt so good to use 140-pound (and thicker – S&B Beta and Zeta are 180 pound) paper again! While I had made a valiant effort to give 98-pound paper a chance because I really wanted it to resolve my other issues, I think I’d been holding back with water whenever I sketched on it. In addition, I never felt fully comfortable with how flimsy it is, even a 10-page signature of it, without its supporting leather cover.

Once I switched back to the heavier papers, I suddenly felt re-liberated. The other day when I was sketching at Whole Foods, I laid down a lot of water at times and even rewashed spots I’d already washed to further blend the ink shading, and those papers really took it all. As much as I wanted 98-pound paper to work for me, I’ve decided to go back to my tried-and-true 140-pound Canson XL. It’s still the best all-around solution for my everyday sketchbooks – the ideal tradeoff between paper quality and cost.

As for the S&B loose papers. . . well, you can imagine what a treat it is to use those! But at a potential cost of $21 to make a 72-page book (not counting the paper wastage from cutting down the full-size sheets to my usual 9-by-12-inch format), I can’t justify that hefty price. I’m sticking with economical yet highly serviceable 140-pound Canson XL.


  1. Heavier paper is most certainly a treat, and one that one should not deprive themselves of for most things. I use the 98lb stuff for quick-sketching and even for smaller (4x6) books but I'm always happy to use S&B Beta sketchbooks for more 'serious' sketching.

  2. I like your clean new palette, particularly because cobalt violet is one of my faves. Looking forward to a few Fridays off between winter and spring classes. Yay! I get to sketch with you all again!

    1. Oh -- maybe you're the one I got cobalt violet from! :-) Great to see you back at USk, Michele!

      - Tina


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